The last time a CFL game was played was November 24th, 2019.
A few short months later the greater sports landscape and the world would change drastically with the emergence of the Coronavirus. Since then, the CFL’s financial struggles have been well documented. From their request for a federal bailout being denied to league-wide layoffs, the outlook on the CFL hasn’t been pretty.
However, since the grim news of a cancelled 2020 season in August, a cautious optimism has emerged from the ashes of the lost season. Teams are re-signing their coaching staff, high-profile quarterbacks are restructuring their contracts to create cap space and various players are re-signing with their squads.
Yes, we’re finally talking about football again in the CFL and while there’s a way to go before we will see sold-out crowds and tailgate parties there are a few CFL storylines to be discussed that have been left dormant due to the lost season.
Will Cody Fajardo take the next step in his CFL career?
Cody Fajardo exploded on to the scene in 2019 after Zach Collaros went down in the very first game. From there, he amassed 18 touchdowns, 4,302 yards, 105.2 passer rating. This on top of 611 rushing yards capped by 10 touchdowns on the ground.
However, it hasn’t only been his on-field play that has won Rider Nation over, Fajardo has fully bought into the community and has made himself a household name in Saskatchewan and the league as a whole.
The next step will be elevating this team to push for a Grey Cup championship. After winning twice in six years in 2007 & 2013. The Riders have not returned to the big game since winning the championship on home soil.
— Saskatchewan Roughriders (@sskroughriders) January 7, 2021
Now being paired with offensive coordinator Jason Maas, expectations are sky-high. After a heartbreaking loss in the West Division Final in 2019, Fajardo will be out for redemption in 2021.
He won’t be alone as Jeremy O’Day and the Riders brass worked to re-sign Shaq Evans, Jordan Williams-Lambert, Kyran Moore and William Powell. Upfront, Brendon LaBatte, Dan Clark and newly-acquired Evan Johnson will anchor the line.
Will it be the same old Toronto Argonauts in 2021 despite the new signings?
The Toronto Argonauts shocked many when they hired former Calgary Stampeders quarterback coach, Ryan Dinwiddie. Under the tutelage of Dinwiddie, Bo Levi Mitchell won CFL Most Outstanding Player twice and reached the Grey Cup three consecutive seasons, winning it all in 2018.
It’s not totally uncommon to see a promotion from position coach to head coach. In the NFL, former Los Angeles Rams quarterback coach, Zac Taylor was hired as the Cincinnati Bengals head coach.
Dinwiddie also oversaw the success of Nick Arbuckle in 2019 as he filled in for the injured Mitchell for a stretch of seven games. Arbuckle threw for 11 touchdowns to just five interceptions and posted a 106.5 passer rating in relief.
Arbuckle now joins Dinwiddie in Toronto and fans can expect lots of passing if Dinwiddie carries the same system over from Calgary. The Stampeders rushed just 28% of the time and passed 69%.
Beyond the quarterback position, where the Argos really made waves was the rest of free agency. Signing former NFLers, Martavis Bryant, Shane Ray, Kendall Wright, Mike Tyson, Kony Ealy & Bishop Sankey.
Toronto signed/traded for CFL veterans in DaVaris Daniels (2020), Cordarro Law, Eric Rogers, Charleston Hughes, Cameron Judge & Odell Willis. That’s not to discount additional under-the-radar signings they made with Antonio Pipkin and Shawn Oakman.
— Steve Bolen (@stevebolen22) January 25, 2021
The big question for Toronto now is if Dinwiddie can put it together and build chemistry quickly. For all anyone knows, there may not be a pre-season or much time for camps with the current COVID-19 restrictions in place.
But Argos management in the6ix has done their job in turning over a roster that produced an 8-28 record in each of their last two seasons.
Can the Winnipeg Blue Bombers run it back?
One of the lasting memories from 2019 was Winnipeg ending a 29-year Grey Cup drought. However, much to Kyle Walters and Mike O’Shea’s credit, they’ve been able to retain their core contributors. Zach Collaros, Willie Jefferson and Grey Cup MVP Andrew Harris will all be back in blue & gold in 2021.
To add to the list, Jermarcus Hardrick, Stanley Bryant, Nic Demski, Jackson Jeffcoat, Pat Neufeld and Tobi Antigha have all been re-signed. Incredible work was done by all parties involved to ensure the core of the team is intact going into the 2021 season.
The big question for this team will be if Zach Collaros can remain healthy for the majority of the season. The Bombers took steps to fortify their passing game by signing Bryant Mitchell and re-signing Kenny Lawler who lead the team in receiving yards in 2019.
Behind Collaros are the unproven pivots, Sean McGuire, Dalton Sneed and Dru Brown.
However, this may not matter if Winnipeg continues to lean on the run game as they have in years past. The Bombers led the CFL in rushing percentage with 44% of their play calls being runs in 2019. They also rushed the ball 48% of the time on first down. Both totals leading the league.
Can Mike Reilly have a bounceback season?
What feels like ages ago is the hype surrounding the BC Lions. After hiring DeVone Claybrooks, unveiling new uniforms and bringing aboard former-MOP Mike Reilly the BC Lions fell flat on their face limping to a 5-13 record.
Reilly saw his numbers regress throwing for just 20 touchdowns, his lowest totals since playing in just 10 games in 2015 that saw him throw 15. Reilly is certainly still capable of being an elite quarterback and his 2019 numbers shouldn’t fool anyone.
The biggest question is if Reilly and new offensive coordinator Jordan Maksymic can pick up where they left off.
Reilly last won the CFL’s most outstanding player in 2017 with Maksymic as his quarterback coach and passing game coordinator. He also led the CFL in passing yardage in their three seasons together (2016-2018).
Can Calgary continue to be the model of consistency in the CFL?
Since 2008, the Calgary Stampeders have missed the playoffs zero times, finished below second place in the West once (2011), won the West Division seven times, appeared in the Grey Cup six times, winning three (2008, 2014 & 2018).
However, in 2019 things took a turn. Bo Levi Mitchell would miss seven games and not return at 100%. What took place at home in the West Semi-Final is something that Stampeder fans have not experienced in a long time, a home playoff loss.
The eventual champion Winnipeg Blue Bombers walked out of McMahon with a decisive 35-14 victory.
As we approach the 2021 season, many believe Calgary’s losses over the course of two off-seasons will spell their demise.
The Stamps have said farewell to both Brad Erdos and Shane Bergman, staples on the offensive line. Cordarro Law and Eric Rogers have made their way east in a trade with Toronto. And special teams ace Rob Maver said good-bye to the game following the 2019 season.
However, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Bo Levi Mitchell and Dave Dickenson enter the 2021 season as the longest-tenured head coach – quarterback duo, working together since the 2015 season.
They’ve also re-signed familiar names such as Kamar Jorden, Jamar Wall, Raheem Wilson, Rene Paredes, Richie Sindani, Royce Metchie, Josh Huff and more. Going into a fresh decade, Calgary will look to continue its winning ways.
— CFL on TSN (@CFLonTSN) July 8, 2017
Can Hamilton get over the hump?
The Hamilton Tiger-Cats now holds the record for the longest Grey Cup drought in the CFL having not won the title since 1999. Since dropping back-to-back Grey Cups in 2013 & 2014, the Ticats had their share of middling seasons with ten, seven, six and eight wins respectively.
However, in 2019 the doors swung open and Hamilton raced to a 15-3 record while going 9-0 at home. After quickly dismantling the Edmonton Football Team in the East Final, fans and pundits alike figured the Grey Cup was theirs for the taking. Instead, the Tiger-Cats received an inopportune reality check that resulted in Winnipeg, not Hamilton ending their Grey Cup drought.
Attention now shifts to 2021 where Hamilton appears to be running it back with the core that brought them so much success two years prior.
Dane Evans and Jeremiah Masoli will battle it out at quarterback while the core of Brandon Banks, Bralon Addison, Sean Thomas Erlington, Chris Van Zeyl, Ja’Gared Davis, Ted Laurent, Courtney Stephen, Simoni Lawrence and many more.
But with the flashy signings by Toronto, stable quarterbacking in Ottawa and a hungry Montreal team looking to build off of an upstart 2019 season, the road to the Grey Cup could prove to be more difficult than it was in 2019.
Whether it’s an 8, 10 or 18 game season, these leftover narratives from 2019 certainly still hold weight today. And while Edmonton, Montreal and Ottawa weren’t mentioned in the bulk of the article, they too will have to prove they can surpass their level of play from the last played season.